Pfizer staff set to strike in dispute over pensions

Almost 400 workers in two of Cork’s Pfizer plants are to go on strike in little over a fortnight in a row over pensions.

Last week it emerged that Siptu members at Pfizer’s two pharmaceutical plants in Ringinskiddy and Little Island had voted overwhelmingly to reject Labour Court recommendations on the company’s plans to discontinue their defined benefit (DB) pension scheme.

Pfizer had first proposed the introduction of a direct contribution (DC) pension scheme to replace non-contributory DB schemes in 2014. It said that would be for future accrual only, and it would continue to fund the existing DB schemes in accordance with its obligations.

However, after rejecting the court’s recommendation, the unions announced they would be balloting for industrial action up to strike.

Siptu confirmed it has just under 400 members in the two plants and that there will be a 24-hour work stoppage in the Ringaskiddy facility on February 15 followed by a 24-hour work stoppage in both plants on February 18.

“There will also be an indefinite overtime ban from February 16 in both plants. Further work stoppages will take place over the coming weeks,” the union warned.

Siptu organiser, Ray Mitchell, said: “Since 2014, Siptu members have continually sought to reach agreement with the company on this issue.

"However, they now feel they are left with no other option but to take industrial action in order to persuade the company to reach an agreement with them on their defined benefit pension scheme.”

He said his union’s members could not understand why Pfizer Ireland management had sought to change their existing pension benefits while at the same time allowing its employees in other EU countries to stay in a DB scheme.

“In Belgium, for example, Pfizer senior management has allowed its employees the option to voluntarily stay in the DB pension scheme or to voluntarily migrate to a defined contribution scheme,” he said.

The company is also aware that the current joint union/management collective agreement remains in place until a new one is negotiated and agreed with union members. Until then, there can be no alteration or amendment to the existing DB pension scheme.

The company has argued that DB schemes which remain open to accrual are increasingly rare, and that the cost of funding them schemes has risen 1000% since 2009. It says that increase in cost is not sustainable and the volatility of the schemes poses a challenge for the company.

Pfizer said the industrial action was “disproportionate”.

“Pfizer has accepted the Labour Court recommendation which includes enhanced terms and transitional arrangements,” a spokeswoman said. “Pfizer’s defined benefit pension schemes provide benefit values at the upper end of the pension benefit range and the defined contribution scheme recommended by the Labour Court also provides pension benefits at the upper end of the scale.

“The company has allowed significant time over five years to work with colleagues on the changes to the defined benefit pension schemes.

"The Labour Court recommendation’s proposals are very generous including lump sums of up to €35,000, company contributions of up to 15% of pensionable pay, early transition incentives of up to an extra 14% of pensionable pay per annum on top of company contributions, or for those who do not transition early, three to seven extra years of accrual in the defined benefit schemes based on a colleague’s age at June 30, 2018 and the opportunity for colleagues over 50 on 30 June 2018 to stay in the defined benefit scheme until such time as they retire or leave the company.”

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